ReLondon pilot sees surge in recycling rates across London estates

A pilot by ReLondon has seen recycling rates increase by 152 per cent across purpose-built flats across the capital.

recycling in London flats

In its report Making recycling work for people in flats 2.0, ReLondon said that rates rose from 11 per cent to 27 per cent, following the introduction of more structured and expansive recycling services.

Operating over a 13-month period from February 2021 to March 2022, the project was run by ReLondon in partnership with the London Borough of Lambeth and Peabody, with funding from the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and ReLondon.

During the pilot, four Lambeth estates witnessed the introduction of food waste recycling, regular collections of used clothing by TRAID, bright pink bins for small electrical items, and new bins for large cardboard packaging, alongside refurbished recycling and residual waste bins. All waste streams were co-located to make the recycling of multiple materials easier, and residual waste chutes were closed.

Prior to its launch, comprehensive baseline measurements were taken of the amount of recycling and residual waste found in the estates. Once the new services were launched, ‘engaging, disruptive’ communication with residents was rolled-out across flat buildings to engage with residents on increasing recycling.

The campaign aimed to create ‘moments of change’, through behavioural prompts given to residents via reusable bags to store dry recycling, putting teabags on food waste leaflets (use it then recycle it), and face to face engagement with residents. This was accompanied by ‘fun and eye catching’ signage, including directional floor signs to point people to the facilities.

According to the body, all improvements were ‘designed to make it easier for residents to recycle, to motivate them to recycle, and to improve their knowledge of what can and cannot be recycled.’

Following the rollout, estates saw a 25 per cent reduction in textiles in the residual waste, with a 52 per cent decrease in small electricals being disposed of in residual waste bins.

While the recycling of small dry items increased, there was an exponential rise in the amount of food waste recycled, the inclusion of which residents were ‘particularly happy’ with. This was led by the introduction of pedal-operated bins and kitchen caddies for residents to dispose of their food. With an average of 35 per cent of food waste being recycled, food disposed of in residual waste decreased by 45 per cent during the pilot.

Following such success, food waste, dry mixed recycling and electricals bins will remain in place across the four locations. However, pop-up collections will cease as they were piloted on a trial basis.

The report’s findings aim to help boroughs meet the Mayor of London’s targets for 50 per cent of local authority-collected waste to be recycled by 2025, and 50 per cent of household waste by 2030. It also supports the Mayor’s target to halve food waste in the capital by 2030 as well as the requirement for food waste services to be provided in flats wherever possible.

It comes before the release of the updated Flats Recycling Packaging toolkit, set for September 2022, which UK local authorities can use to apply the Government’s collection and packaging reforms.

Shirley Rodrigues, Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy said: “This promising research shows that Londoners living in flats want to recycle more and are willing to do so if they’re provided with more opportunities. It’s particularly encouraging to see that up to 35 per cent of food waste was recycled, which has been a long-term challenge in flats, and residents made the most of additional collection services for materials such as small electricals and textiles.

“We welcome the findings from the pilots in Lambeth and will be encouraging boroughs to roll out the updated measures more widely across the capital through their Reduction and Recycling Plans. Improving recycling rates in flats is key to achieving the Mayor’s target for 50 per cent of London’s household waste to be recycled by 2030 and supports our wider plans to make London a zero waste, net zero carbon city.”

ReLondon’s CEO, Wayne Hubbard, said: “The results of this project are genuinely impressive. The detailed waste composition results conducted before and after the pilots tell a compelling story: the residents on these estates are recycling more, in large part due to being given the opportunity to do so – which shows that Londoners really want to do the right thing and will do so when given the chance.

“The team in Lambeth have modelled what the potential impact is of rolling out these kinds of service improvements across all their estates, and it shows that they could potentially achieve a five percentage point increase in the borough-wide recycling rate, taking it up to 41 per cent.

“So we’re delighted that the council has committed to rolling out the Flats Recycling Package across the borough, starting this year. This is the kind of intervention we need across the whole of London if we’re going to achieve the Mayor of London’s target of recycling 50 per cent of household waste by 2025.”

Discovery manager at Ecosurety, Gareth Morton, said: “We are delighted that this project we supported through the Ecosurety Exploration Fund has seen such excellent results. The outcomes prove that when awareness and support are created, and suitable tools are provided to make recycling easier, then waste reduction is possible.

“Hopefully, this report will serve as a blueprint to help other communities across the UK to introduce or improve their infrastructure and communication to flats residents and to boost their recycling rates.”

James Glass, Peabody’s Head of Estate Services said: “We are pleased to be working with Lambeth and ReLondon to make recycling easier for our customers, especially on our estates where historically it has proven to be a challenge. We want our customers to live more sustainably, supporting them to become more energy efficient and driving up recycling rates. This pilot project has given us some valuable insight into recycling on our estates which we hope will further inform our approach to recycling on more of our estates in the future.”

Councillor Rezina Chowdhury, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Lambeth and Clean Air at Lambeth Council added: “The success we have seen over the past year as a result of our waste and recycling changes has been astonishing. I’d like to thank our partners ReLondon and Peabody, but most of all I would like to thank our residents who have adopted the changes with ease and made a real effort to recycle their waste correctly. Let’s keep going and continue to set higher standards within the waste and recycling sector.”